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Summary:

More than 5 billion devices are connected around the world now, just 18 months after passing the 4 billion threshold. Most of the growth is coming from highly populous areas such as China and India, but emerging markets are adding to the connected device total.

After crossing the 4 billion subscriber threshold at end of 2008, there are now 5 billion mobile connections globally, says research firm Wireless Intelligence. Mobile handset adoption will continue to grow — WI estimates the world will see 6 billion connections by the mid-2012. But such growth isn’t being driven by areas such as Europe and the U.S. where adoption rates are already high. Leading the drive to 6 billion is the Asia-Pacific region — specifically China and India — now accounting for 47 percent of all connections world-wide, and up 5 percent from 18 months prior.

From a technology standpoint, GSM and W-CDMA networks continue to dominate the globe, accounting for 89 percent of the world’s mobile market. CDMA devices still hold a lead in the U.S. thanks to Verizon and Sprint, but that will change as Verizon moves forward with a GSM-compatible Long Term Evolution network over the next three years.

Since the WI report focuses mainly on handset subscribers, I wonder if its own future estimates are low. As more devices become connected through the Internet of things, the overall connection numbers should rise accordingly. E-book readers such as the Kindle, automobiles, upcoming and current tablets, not to mention cameras, are all getting connected. Combined with continued growth in the Asia-Pacific area and infrastructure maturity in emerging markets, connected gadgets could push the world’s connection numbers beyond 6 billion sooner rather than later. Indeed, Hans Vestberg, Ericcson’s CEO, expects 50 billion connected devices by 2020 — a number the carriers should pay attention to for strategic planning.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Everybody Hertz: The Looming Spectrum Crisis

  1. Really good numbers. Thanks.

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  2. If a moderate-priced smartphone can get into the hands of the Chinese middle class before 2012, we might see 6 billion by sometime next year. Not to mention expansion into Latin America and the Middle East. Mobile is ridiculously hot right now.

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  3. [...] Now compared to 5 billion mobile connections, the 500 million number looks puny, but one has to put this in perspective. For instance the 485 million broadband connections at the end of Q1 2010 represented 8.4 percent of the worldwide population penetration and a household penetration of 30.8 percent. Makes sense: a lot more homes are likely to have one broadband connection, though those home dwellers may have one or more mobile phones. [...]

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  4. [...] the U.S. workforce is already mobile and a billion members of the workforce are mobile worldwide; it comes as we go over 5 billion mobile devices on the planet; it comes as the smart devices (including the tablet market) starts approaching a billion;  and as [...]

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  5. [...] Cisco anticipates that in 2015, the average mobile user will consume 1,118 megabytes of traffic per month. For perspective, today the average mobile connection generates 65 megabytes of traffic per month, equivalent to about 15 MP3 music files. While the average growth is impressive, those megabytes will be spread across a wider number of devices, from tablets (big bandwidth hogs) to e-readers, which consume much less bandwidth, making it all the more significant. The Cisco study predicts that by 2015, more than 5.6 billion personal devices will be connected to mobile networks, and there will also be 1.5 billion machine-to-machine nodes — nearly the equivalent of one mobile connection for every person in the world. Cisco doesn’t give the current number of connections, but the GSM Association puts it at about 5 billion. [...]

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